What to do when you’ve had it with your fee-crazy bank

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Banks. These days, they really know how to irritate their customers.

First it was excessive overdraft fees and hefty penalties on credit cards. Then it was the anemically low interest rates on savings. And now, it’s the $5-a-month charge to swipe your debit card.

Not all banks are levying all those fees. But those who do are getting plenty of attention, particularly after the country’s largest, Bank of America, announced it will start charging a $5 debit card fee next year.

As consumers, we’ve all got choices. If you’re looking for options to avoid the new fees, here’s an overview:

Talk to your bank: Ask the bank for how to avoid the fees, said Hardekopf. Some banks will waive fees if you maintain a higher balance or open an additional account, like savings. Some, like Bank of America, let you avoid fees if using your debit card only for ATM withdrawals, not for purchases.

Switch to the 3 “C’s”: If you don’t want to get dinged on your debit card, one option is switching to cash, checks or credit cards.

Look at online banks or credit unions: Credit unions, which are not-for-profits that don’t answer to shareholders, typically offer fewer or lower fees. Some require membership in an association or workplace. But many have virtually no membership requirement.

A note of caution: Before you bounce from your bank, be sure you’re not trading one bothersome fee for others somewhere else. One way to compare bank fees is at websites like Bankrate.com or a newer site, DepositAccounts.com.

Among its tips: If you open a second account at another bank or credit union, put in enough money to avoid charges for a low balance. See if it’s possible to make the transfer electronically.

Keep both accounts open for at least a month or one billing cycle, if not longer. Don’t close the first account until all your outstanding checks have cleared. If using direct deposit, contact your employer or others to reroute checks to the new account.

Once you’ve confirmed that your new direct deposit is working, switch your automatic online payments for car loans, utilities, Visa payments. Give it a full billing cycle, then close out your existing account.

Whether you bolt your bank, suck up the extra fees or find alternatives, the choice is yours.

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